Leticia Solis, a health educator with federally qualified health network AltaMed Health Services Corp., said some of her first experiences with the healthcare system began during her childhood when she was trying to find her parents the appropriate help for their chronic diseases.
Both of her parents spoke little English, and money was tight. She said those cultural and economic challenges made it difficult for them to always follow physicians' instructions on managing their health, which made their conditions worse. “I saw my dad and mom struggle a lot economically and I saw that we were in need of some resources,” Solis said.
Solis began asking clinicians questions on her parents' behalf and was able to find them social services and other supports. She said playing the intermediary helped her parents better understand what doctors expected while helping their physicians better understand the social factors that hindered them from better managing their health.
That help her parents required then to get the best medical care and support is just as important for patients now, something that more hospitals are focusing on, particularly in a time when population health management is gaining prominence.
The role of patient advocate has a long history in other countries and has been found within predominantly immigrant populations in the U.S. since the 1960s. But the role is attracting broader interest as the healthcare system has become more complex.
For many healthcare providers, the patient advocate has become a more integral piece of their care delivery strategies by addressing both the medical and other factors that impede patients from improving their health.
“What's changed is the breadth of what you have to help advocate for,” said Louis Malone, director of service excellence at South Nassau Communities Hospital in New York. “It used to be more about creature comforts that they needed help with. There's a lot of communication issues now that I think years ago were not there.”
In addition to educating patients, Malone said many patient advocates are finding an increased need to learn more about hospital financial policies to better help patients with billing issues or help them identify resources to obtain healthcare coverage.
And the demand is so great that patient advocates hired directly by patients are becoming more popular as a means to navigate the healthcare system.